Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Preseason predictions revisited, plus Revs draw 2-2 to TFC

Prognostications are fun. They're especially fun when looking back at them in hindsight after the events predicted come to wonderful fruition...or when the winning numbers on a PowerBall ticket are foretold.

Therefore, Sunday Morning Striker invites you on a journey back to the cool month of April to discover what an untarnished and clear-minded SMS had to say about the upcoming season:

(Note: The following piece - “2007 New England Revolution Season Preview” - was originally published on April 6, 2007 at SMS’s brainchild, houseofsoccer.blogspot.com)

So now that the good and the bad have been discussed, what type of a season can Revs fans reasonably expect? Well, without further ado, here is a prediction: 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, and an accompanying playoff run. DC United will finish ahead again for the second year in a row.

Do the Revs have the talent to make another MLS Cup appearance? On paper, the answer is yes. On the pitch, the answer is no. There are simply too many variables working against another repeat appearance for the navy and red contingent, most notably the losses of Deuce and Pepe.

With that, it is time for me to slip the noose over my head. See you in DC come November!

Other flimsy predictions:

2007 record (W-D-L):
14-10-8, 52 points (2nd place, Eastern Conference). Almost got it right there! Although the win-draw-loss record (14-8-8, 50 points) isn't entirely accurate, the win total was exact, and the points are pretty darn close. Then, with DC United finishing ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, SMS has to admit that he was sweating this prediction a bit while Tom Soehn's team was awash in early-season mediocrity. But the MLS season is a marathon, and not a sprint - and thus, SMS stood by his predictions with his fail-safe guarantee: all predictions right, or the next one's free.

Reserve Team Record: 5-3-3. In hindsight, SMS is puzzled why he even attempted to predict this one. Perhaps he was trying to one-up his journalistic counterparts by even factoring in the reserve division into his litany of predictions. Or maybe he was just trying to spotlight his preview of his breakthrough, almost-off-the-ground Revolution Rookie Report website (which is still in its fetal stage, unfortunately). For the record, the Reserve division went 6-3-1, but SMS was within one point of predicting the exact point total.

Team MVP: Taylor Twellman. Ok, this not SMS's boldest prediction. Maybe this one was a "gimme" - but anything can happen! Twellman stepped up with another fine season, tallying 16 goals while polishing his status as an elite MLS striker, despite missing five matches due to injury and national team obligations.

Golden Boot: Taylor Twellman. Another gimme. This category and its predecessor pretty much go hand in hand.

Best Defender: Michael Parkhurs.. While the Revs backline has been sporadically shaky throughout the season, Parky's been the most consistent defender on the squad, bar none. Want to challenge SMS on that? Go ahead and tell SMS - completely sober and drug-free - that there was a better Revolution defender.

Rookie of the Year: Adam Cristman. Why stop at just team rookie of the year? Cristman is the leading candidate for MLS Rookie of the Year honors! Granted, alot of people (including SMS) were raving about first rounder Wells Thompson's performance during preseason training. But it was Cristman, who scored an impressive six goals before the bell sounded on the late-winter schedule - that really separated himself from Thompson with an uncanny knack for putting the ball in the back of the net.

Supersub: Wells Thompson. Again, is there any really debate with this one? Wellsie came off the bench in 16 of 26 MLS matches this season, and exhibited great versatility by playing on both sides. Of course, his status didn't diminish when he recorded a crucial goal in the US Open Cup Final against FC Dallas earlier this month.

MLS All-Stars: Parkhurst, Twellman, Joseph, Reis and Ralston. 100% accurate, thank you very much. Maybe it was another freebie, but cases could have been made for Andy Dorman and Pat Noonan prior the season. But SMS knew that due to prior injury past (Noonan) and the dreaded underrated label (Dorman), his All-Star predictions would prove to be prescient.

First Reolution player to take out David Beckham on August 12th: Shalrie Joseph. N/A. Beckham never graced the Gillette Stadium pitch, thus ruining this prediction, and ruining a prime opportunity for Ivan Gazidis to suspend the Grenadian.

Toughest match: October 6, at Chicago. It was tough - Chicago had playoff fortunes on the line, Blanco wreaked havoc on the Revs, and the local lads just could not muster the necessary firepower to overtake a hungrier Chi-town side. Conversely, Reis was assaulted with Fire shots in the second half, and couldn't withstand the barrage, as the Revs lost 2-1.

First goal: Pat Noonan, at Chicago (April 7). Wrong. Just flat out wrong. Noonan didn't score his first goal of the season June 16th against Columbus, and the Revs were shut out in Chicago. SMS takes his mulligan right here.

First red card: Shalrie Joseph, at FC Dallas (April 29). Close - SJ recorded said red card four days later at DC in front of a national audience on ESPN2’s MLS Prime Time Thursday (which surely played right into the hands of Gazidis).

First clean sheet: April 14, vs. Toronto. DING DING DING!!!

First mid-season departure: Shalrie Joseph, to Celtic FC. SMS looks back in nervous laughter at this one in light of the recent news that Joseph just signed a contract extension this past week. How happy is he now? SMS won't speculate, but third-person soccer journalists never take a class player like Joseph for granted. Whatever he asked for, SMS hopes he received it.

Next player to be at the center of a transfer rumor: Michael Parkhurst. This was the "hot" rumor when the media got bored writing about the Joseph rumors. The shroud of secrecy concerning MLS player contracts is only one rung below the manifesto of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay – all of whom have slightly better deals than those under developmental contracts! Where would Parky go should he be transferred for money that will ultimately not be used? Anyone's guess is as good as SMS's.

Most Interesting Non-Chicago Game: May 19 at Houston. This one was a yawner, with the Revs scoring early courtesy of Shalrie Joseph in the 9th minute, and then, doing their best to defend, defend, defend after that. Perhaps the most interesting non-Chicago match was the September 15th affair against FC Dallas. Not only because the Revs clinched their playoff tickets with the 4-2 win, but it was a stunning display of an aggressive attack after being flat-out embarrassed at DC a week prior.

Back to reality: In news up north, the Revs and Toronto FC squared off in the regular season finale at the magnificently-built BMO Field. This was the first trip up north for the Revolution, who looked to finish the 2007 campaign on a high note before the playoffs next week.

Anywho, the Revs kicked off to begin the match, and guess who was back on the bench? Second leading scorer Andy Dorman! Aiyeeeeeeeeeee! Now, SMS is no former Liverpool-playing, MLS-coaching Scotsman, but what in God’s name is your second-leading scorer doing on the bench when your offense has been stale during the previous three matches. But SMS digresses…for now.

Back to the match: Taylor Twellman fired a groundball to the Toronto keeper in the second minute, as the Revs looked keen to acquire a goal early on.

Non-soccer thought: Bank of America was an official sponsor of the Comcast Sportsnet telecast from BMO Field. BMO Bank, mind you, is the national bank of Canada. Wonder which has more money?

Then, in an stomach-turning sequence in the eighth minute, the Revs defending became inexplicably limp when Andrea Lombardo took a ball near midfield and fed it to a wide open Colin Samuel, who punched a shot that was safely smothered by Matt Reis.

Amazingly, the open MLS player audition that is the Toronto FC roster (40 different players have showed up for the Reds this season alone), perhaps sensing a bit of complacency on the Revolution end, attacked like a side with nothing to lose. Who would have thunk it? To their credit, they almost found the back of the net a couple of occasions before the ball trotted out toward their end of the pitch, where the Revolution were able to secure a corner kick shortly thereafter.

In a hilarious scene, Steve Ralston, doing his best to properly line up his ball before the corner flag on a CK, was caught in the midst of a sudden downpour of red and white streamers courtesy of the Toronto supporters. After a bit of a delay from untangling himself from the paper tentacles, the steely vet finally launched a long outswinger that failed to find an onrushing teammate.

Back defending, the Revs were once again pressed intermittently by the “who-dats” of the Toronto FC front line. Though they did well to keep the ball away from Reis after the initial onrush of Toronto shots, it wasn’t until minute 21 that the Revs finally pressed forward with Pat Noonan leading the way. The striker traversed through the Reds backs and fired a low shot that clanked off the far post, as the Revs turned back upfield empty handed.

By the half hour mark, the Revs still searched for paydirt against a squad they had scored seven goals against in two prior matches. But with their backs so often in the shadow of their own goals, the local eleven struggled to assemble the necessary numbers to move forward.

By the 40th minute, a perfect four-word phrase was uttered by analyst Brad Feldman when describing a lofty Noonan shot toward goal: “to no great effect.” No kidding! The Revs seemed like they were playing with a collective hangover, as the attack looked lethargic, and the Reds taking advantage of their distracted opponents.

As the Revs sputtered toward the finish line of the first half, it seemed as if they were doomed to head back to the locker room at the half with the scoreline knotted at zero.

That was until Michael Parkhurst alertly took a loose ball near center circle, looked up field, and noticed the Toronto keeper Kenny Stamatopoulos well off his line. One touch, two touch, and the defender sent a ball cleared for take off, picked up altitude, served pretzels and soda as the pilot flashed the “fasten your seatbelts” sign, before it descended over the outstretched arm of Stamatopoulos and into the bottom of the net in the second minute of stoppage time.

Fresh from the locker room , the Revs kicked off the second half seemingly energized by the Parkhurst’s circus goal, as the Revs set up for corner kick in the 48th minute. Ralston whipped an inswinger toward the duo of Twellman and Jeff Larentowicz before Twellman ultimately put a head on it and pushed it top shelf past Stamatopoulos for the second goal of the match.

Though he wasn’t about to argue with the results, SMS was pleased to see Andy Dorman finally freed from his bench sentence in the 51st minute, when he came on for Wells Thompson. But instead of taking his usual freewheeling attacking mid role, the lanky Welshman was earmarked for the right, as Ralston remained in the middle.

Nevertheless, the Revs attack remained potent, with their muskets loaded and bayonets sharpened. But before they found another goal, Toronto held back the Revolution attack, and set up a quick counterattack that died seconds later.

Just before the hour mark, the home side pressed hard against the Revs back line when Marvell Wynne tangoed with Khano Smith for the ball before the box. Wynne, with little room, finally took hold the ball and nailed a shot that ricocheted off the near post. However, the ball skipped right toward Samuel, who slid into the deflection and directed the ball toward the corner of the far post for the first Toronto goal in the 59th minute.

The Reds searched for the equalizer in the 82nd minute when Robinson took a free kick from the right channel and fired it into the mixer, where the ball bounced anxiously between red shirts until Smith fired the ball down field.

Nursing a one-goal lead with time winding down in regulation, the Revs tried to keep the Reds at bay. Yet, the Reds were not about to concede the so-called meaningless match, and organized the attack in the 92nd minute. Tyler Hemming sent a high pass from midfield toward the box, where Jay Heaps uprooted its intended target, Chris Pozniak - but the referee signaled play on. The ball then squirted to Robinson, and immediately fed it to the right to Danny Dichio, who side volleyed a quick, 18-yard arching ball that… floated…(oh no!)…just…over…Reis…and under the bar for the equalizer. Aiyeeeeeeeeeee! What say you? A late-goal given up the Revs back line? Surely, you jest!

Seconds later, the match ended, and the Revs once again left points on the pitch yet again, as they drew 2-2 to Toronto FC.

THREE PENNY ANALYSIS: Surprisingly, analyst Greg Lalas called this match a “bye week” for the Revs, with their playoff tickets punched, and the playoff matchups already set. What? Are you kidding me?

Well, apparently, the Revs must have been listening, because they played with the lackluster of a team that simply mailed it in during the first half, as they seemed to simply play out the remainder of the match await the more important one next week in New York. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Parky’s fluke goal, the Revs would have been chained to a pathetic one-goal effort.

If there’s one intangible so grossly overlooked by statheads and analysts, it’s the idea of momentum. It could be argued that the Revs end of season momentum in 2006 really catapulted them to within minutes of achieving the MLS Cup. A bye week? I don’t think so less-famous Lalas brother.

Now, if you take away the silly Pakurst and Dichio goals, the match still ends in a draw, so it’s fair to say that while the Revs controlled the ball for much of the second half, they ran into an energized expansion side north of the border. Of course, the Dichio goal was a microcosm of the back line’s recent troubles. Why did Nicol insert Riley for Smith, and plug him right into the midfield, rather than dropping him back? God and Nicol only know, but the move proved costly.

So, there you have it. Instead of marching into the playoffs riding the wave of victory, the Revs will instead stumble in, with their tails between their legs, after drawing to an expansion team in the final regular season match. SMS hates to say it, but he must: the Dichio goal may be the undoing of the Revs come playoff. That goal killed any potential momentum going into Game 1 next week.

Taylor Twellman career MLS goal tally: 91 and counting…

Speaking of Twellman….where were you at 10:39pm ET on Sunday night? If you were watching Game 7 of the American League Championship Series live from Fenway Park on Fox, you saw a close shot of an unidentified (by the announcing team), blonde-haired fan with a beverage in his hand enjoying the game.

Another Revolution Marketing idea: Two words – “Revolution streamers”.

Stat of the Match, Part 1: Before Colin Samuel’s goal at the 59th minute, Toronto had gone 239 minutes without scoring a goal against Matt Reis.

Stat of the Match, Part 2: Danny Dichio’s goal in the 92nd minute made it three of the last four matches in which the Revs have allowed a game-tying or game-winning goal after the 60th minute.

Stat of the Match, Part 3: Michael Parkhurst’s David Blaine goal just before the end of the first half was the first of his three-year MLS career.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: The Revs have failed to beat an opponent with a worse record than theirs in each of their last three matches.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Last year, the Revs closed out the regular season on a 5-0-2 tear. This year, the Revs went a mediocre 2-3-2 in their final seven matches.

SMS Alma Mater Update: It was a perfect week in every respect for the Anchorwomen, and they kicked it off with a 2-0 road victory at Westfield State College. Kristina Haughey and Linsday Laurie each netted a goal in the shutout victory up in – you guessed it – Westfield, MA.

Yesterday, RIC continued its shutout streak by beating Eastern Connecticut State University 1-0 at RIC Soccer Field on Senior Day. And who better to team up on the game’s lone goal than a pair of seniors? Kerry Donahue whipped a perfect free kick from thirty five yards right to Abby Hummel, who headed home the only goal necessary, as the maroon and gold beat their Little East Conference rivals. More importantly, the win moved RIC into outside pole position in the LEC standings, and ensured them of an all-important home playoff game come the end of the month.

Anchorwomen, SMS enthusiastically salutes all of you, and looks forward to catching the home playoff match later this month.

US Women’s National Team update: The WNT closed out their 2007 schedule with a rather disappointing 1-1 tie to Mexico yesterday, as Heather O’Reilly and Monica Ocampo each scored for their clubs. In net for the fourth consecutive match was Briana Scurry, who held down the fort as best she could while Hope Solo was a no-show once again. With the draw, the US WNT has gone 3-1-1 in their last five matches since the controversial goalkeeper switch.

It’s absolutely fair to say that the aura of invincibility that once surrounded this team has been tarnished, but it’s unfair to say that it’s entirely Greg Ryan’s fault. The club’s vulnerabilities (defending, creativity) became its undoing against Brazil, and nearly became its undoing against North Korea.

With the 2007 fixture list completed, will there be wholesale changes come next year for the WNT? Which players have achieved their final caps? Stay tuned for more drama in 2008. In the meantime, SMS would also like to salute the WNT for their many, MANY successes in 2007, and went 18-1-4, which by SMS’s estimation, is a hell of a year for any squad!

Join us next week after the first leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, where SMS will focus his entire attention to the match itself, and will bypass the extracurricular tidbits for a later date. Thanks to the powers that be, the match will be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel, which is only available on digital cable in RI. Thanks MLS! But fear not, as SMS will find a way to deliver the best post-match critique that money could buy. Fortunately, on an exclusive basis, SMS will provide said commentary to the first 100 Revolution fans free of charge! Get here early!

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